Untidy Towns (Kate O’Donnell, UQP)
Seventeen-year-old Adelaide Longley has had enough. After five years of striving for success at her expensive boarding school, she’s done with trying to be the person her teachers and family expect her to be: the high-achieving model student on her way to a law degree at Melbourne University. But with no real plan and just $150 to her name, Adelaide’s only got one place to go when she drops out of school: Emyvale, her sleepy country hometown, where everyone knows what she’s left behind and no-one can understand why. But Emyvale has some surprises in store—from Adelaide’s part-time job amid the dusty relics and quirky characters of the local historical society to her tentative romance with high-school dropout Jarrod and rekindled connection with her former best friend Jenny. Returning to Emyvale isn’t the step backwards Adelaide once thought. This is a nostalgic coming-of-age tale from first-time author Kate O’Donnell, who effectively captures the simultaneous comforts and confines of small-town life. Adelaide’s narrative voice occasionally feels self-conscious, and the book’s narrative arc has few surprises. Nonetheless, Untidy Towns tackles themes that are likely to resonate with older teens, from the academic pressures of senior school to the emotional complexities of reconciling the future you’ve always imagined for yourself with the future you actually want.
Carody Culver is a freelance writer and editor and the program coordinator for Queensland Poetry Festival